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Populists threaten to topple status quo in Latvia election

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Populists threaten to topple status quo in Latvia election

Populists threaten to topple status quo in Latvia election
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Much like other elections across Europe in recent months, politicians across the continent will be watching Latvia on Saturday when voters head to the polls to elect their next four-year parliament.

Will the new anti-establishment KPV LV Party, which currently ranks fourth in national polls, make enough gains to render it kingmaker in a new government?

Or will the incumbent Union of Greens and Farmers party, the most popular party in the ruling coalition, secure power for another term?

"Nobody knows what Latvia will be like next month," political scientist Marcis Krastins told AFP Thursday.

"But a cabinet of populists and pro-Kremlin politicians is a real possibility if they find some third party with which to form a coalition".

Up to 100 seats in the Saeima, based in Latvia’s capital Riga, are up for grabs. Polls suggest the centre-left, pro-Russia Harmony (SPDS) party is likely to pick up the most votes, followed by the more conservative Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS) and the National Alliance (NA).

But almost a quarter of Latvia’s electorate are still undecided, according to the country’s SKDS Research Centre, meaning Saturday’s vote could go either way.

How will the election be decided?

More than a million Latvians are expected to vote on Saturday.

The country’s 954 Polling stations will open from 7am to 8pm local time. Another 121 in 45 other countries will serve voters internationally.

The election will be decided by a proportional representation system, with voters choosing among over 1,400 candidates from 16 parties for seats allocated according to the population size of each constituency: Rīga (30), Vidzeme (27), Latgale (15), Zemgale (15) and Kurzeme (13).

Parties must receive at least 5% of the total vote to secure a seat in the Saeima.

The prime minister is then chosen by the elected party or coalition with a government majority (at least 51 seats).

Presidential candidates, nominated by each party, must also receive at least 51 votes from MPs before they can assume office.

Who is the KPV LV party?

Chaired by stage actor and radio host Artuss Kaimiņs, the Who owns the state? (KPV LV) party was founded in 2016 on a populist, anti-establishment platform.

Kaimins has run foul of the government, having been briefly detained in June on suspicion of illegally financing his party.

REUTERS
Artuss KaimiņsREUTERS

KPV LV is currently the smallest party in the Saeima, with just one member — Kaimins — sitting in parliament. But he could soon have company. Public support for his party among Latvian expats has soared in recent months, from 4.4% in June to 24.4% in September, according to a survey co-led by the Union of European Latvians and portal latviesi.com.

Should this public approval translate to votes, KPV LV could shake-up the Saeima and end the status quo by partnering with Harmony, which seeks better relations with Russia.

The group came top in Latvia’s 2014 general elections, thanks to votes from the country’s sizable ethnic-Russian minority, but was relegated to the opposition by the Latvian-speaking parties seeking distance from Moscow, who annexed Crimea that year.

A Russian-speaking government would therefore be a first for post-Soviet Latvia, where fears of Kremlin meddling fester.

"We are at a crossroads. Either we will form a new government or they will," Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis, of the Union of Greens and Farmers party, warned.

He added that a KPV-Harmony ruling alliance would present "a rather radical change of Latvia's position towards the European Union and towards our security matters which, I think, is very dangerous”.